Donald Trump and the Rise of Conservative Echo Chambers
Trying to figure out why your side lost an election is never fun and never easy, but they are some of the most important bits of analysis any political observer can do. When Donald Trump won in 2016, the question everyone — left, right, and center — asked was why?
If there was one explanation that gained credibility with all sides it was that Hillary Clinton voters lived in a bubble. Even SNL mocked the idea of liberal bubbles after that election. 2016 was proof that the Democratic Party had lost touch with Americans who live outside of the political, economic, and cultural power centers of this country. They forgot that there is an entire country that exists between the coasts.
Fast forward to this week and there are two Democratic senators from Arizona, two Democratic senators from Georgia which will give Democrats a de facto majority in the Senate in less than two weeks when Donald Trump leaves town. Why? In large part because of the rise of conservative echo chambers.
The rise of conservative echo chambers over the last four years began with the premise that a lot of us in right-leaning America believed: that conservative echo chambers are impossible. This is not because we, as conservatives, are genetically superior (although science says we are hotter, and if our liberal friends have taught us anything, it is that we ought to believe the science, although people who know the author would beg to differ, but enough levity, back to serious business), but because society is dominated by liberalism.
The news media is liberal, the public school system is liberal, academia is liberal, the culture coming out of Hollywood is liberal, sports are increasing politicized and liberal, and corporate America has been increasingly trying to prove their wokeness by aligning themselves with progressive causes.
Despite all these truths, Trump prevailing headwinds, Trump still won in 2016 and as is true of populist movements of left and right, the narrative Trump supporters came up with was that he and, by extension themselves, represented “the people” against “the elites.” Since, “the people” always and by definition outnumber “the elites” as more time went on, the more they believed “the people” love Trump.
The worst development in this development was an increasing number of conservative faith leaders came to view supporting Donald Trump as an important Christian duty and if supporting Trump is something you do because God says so, then not supporting Trump is… well… use your imagination.
There were warning signs along the way, however, that this might not translate to victory in 2020. Trump’s 2016 victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were each by less than one percent, Trump’s approval rating never got above 50%, and Democrats won the House in 2018.
All were ignored. Sure, Trump’s victories were small, but victories are victories and none of his Republican or conservative critics won in those places. Sure, Trump’s approval ratings aren’t that great, but he has a passionate and loyal base that will vote for him in record numbers in 2020. Plus, who really said to themselves during the campaign, “I can’t wait to vote for that Biden guy, because he’s really awesome”
Of course, if your re-election strategy involves deliberately narrowing your appeal to an increasingly smaller, but passionate portion of the electorate you risk turning off an increasingly larger, but equally passionate portion of the electorate against you. It never seemed to occur to people that while they may enjoy having the president of the United States call people names, most people do not, especially those on the receiving end.
Trump got more votes than any Republican or incumbent president in history, but Joe Biden got more votes than anyone ever. It was not that Biden voters love Biden, it is that many of them really loathe Trump, but when confronted with his fact before the election, the only plausible explanation from Trump World was Trump Derangement Syndrome.
How serious could Trump’s critics really be if they have to resort to having segments on CNN about his Twitter typos? Most people do not care about typos, but the media covered them and in 2020 a study from the University of Illinois confirmed that journalists do in fact live in their own bubble. Just another example of TDS among the elites who miss what real America thinks and cares about.
The problem was the dichotomization around Trump. A lot of conservative wanted, and still do, to focus on media and Democratic myths about Russian collusion. But false narratives tales of Russian collusion does not excuse Trump’s chumminess with Putin in Helsinki, for example. Do the good people of Michigan want that?
Over the course of the Trump era, conservatives also became increasingly frustrated with Big Tech, particularly Twitter. Twitter committed many sins including arbitrary enforcement of its rules. These rules included ideas around hate speech that targeted conservative arguments, especially around ideas of gender and sexuality and what exactly those words mean.
They also included rules about disinformation, which also seemed to be the liberals at Twitter just opinionating about things. If you made an argument against mail-in voting, Twitter would slap a fact-check label on your tweet. If you wanted to share a certain New York Post story about Hunter Biden, Twitter would not even allow you to tweet the link.
The response? Join Parler, a Twitter knockoff for conservatives to talk with each other without censorship from Jack Dorsey. In other words, a glorified echo chamber at its best, a cesspit of white supremacists and crackpot conspiracy theorists planning terrorist attacks operating under the guise of free speech at its worst.
Speaking of Parler attempting to replace Twitter, all those liberal centers of power were perhaps not so iron-tight. For years, the conservative critique of the news media was that it said it was neutral and objective, but really wasn’t. We said we did not want a conservative media, we just want the legacy media to actually be neutral. Keep throwing tough, but fair questions at Republicans, but ask Nancy Pelosi something other than her favorite ice cream flavor or why she thinks Republicans are terrible. But, lately some in Trump World indicated they actually want mainstream media sources to be conservative.
More and more people took aim at Fox, claiming it was no longer a reliable outlet as if Fox was supposed to be an extension of the White House communications arm. Fox’s biggest sin was not even any negative coverage towards Trump or positive coverage towards Biden that turned out to be false, but calling Arizona for Biden before any other network and by its non-opinion hosts refusing to entertain any of the post-election conspiracy theories.
So, a significant number of viewers bolted for Newsmax or OAN because those networks told them what they wanted to hear: that Trump was so beloved it was impossible that he could lose fairly, only a fraud-ridden election with conspiracies involving the Venezuelans could do that. Linn Wood’s theory of a stolen election theory requires you to believe that the country as a whole votes like Wyoming.
Worse, politicians such as Rep. Mo Brooks and Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley along with certain portions of the commentariat gave claims of a stolen election credibility in way that an internet crank like Wood could not. There was a zero percent chance that Donald Trump would be inaugurated again on January 20, but those politicians and others, for no other reason than to bolster their own careers by portraying themselves as fighters fed false hope that somehow, Donald Trump could be inaugurated again.
This led to some, such as Rep. Louie Gohmert, to claim that the vice president has the uniliteral power to throw out a state’s electors. This idea, received support from Trump himself who used it to call his loyal ally for four years, Mike Pence, weak for not embracing it and accused him of betrayal not long before a group of his supporters mounted an insurrection by storming the Capitol.
Echo chambers aren’t just for Hollywood celebrities', D.C. elites, or the academy. Too many conservatives have retreated deep into their own echo chambers and it is time to come out before more people get hurt and of slightly less importance, before Democrats win more elections.